We've all been there: you go to a website to check out latest tech gadget or fashion accessory and then advertisements for those products start stalking you around the internet. Avoid the "creepy stalker" label with these five tips.

Marketing automation tools and website personalization can transform your site from a source of static information into a two-way conversation with your users. But as in any real-world conversation you need to follow the social ground rules or risk alienating your users.

Don’t be “that guy” (or gal)

You know the one: the stranger on the bus who asks you overly personal questions; the nosy neighbor who eavesdrops on your phone calls; the kid in school who just wouldn’t leave you alone no matter how many times you told them to go away. Creepy people don’t respect the unspoken rules of social interaction. Websites need to respect the same social rules or risk leaving their users with an icky feeling.

5 ways to prevent your site from being creepy

1. Don’t ask for too much information up front

Just like the stranger who asks you overly-intimate questions, websites shouldn’t ask users for detailed personal information too soon. Users want to get to know you before they tell you too much. The question in their mind is always “why do you want to know?” If they don’t feel comfortable, they will lie (you know it’s true, we’ve all done it). So, when requesting personal details:

  • only ask for the most essential information (e.g. don’t ask for an address and phone number if users are signing up for an email newsletter)
  • let users know why you want the information and what you will do with it
  • let them know you won’t share their information with other organizations

2. Don’t try to move the relationship along too fast

Remember that many of your users are “just browsing”. They’re not necessarily ready to buy, sign up, or join anything on the first visit. They probably want to take a look, see what you have and get to know you a little bit. Don’t rush them. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with putting offers in front of users. Just make sure that you give them the chance to walk away if they’re not interested. And if they’ve told you “no,” don’t keep bugging them. Sites that are overly aggressive in seeking conversions feel creepy.

3. Don’t make too many assumptions

When creating personalized content for users, getting it wrong is potentially worse than not personalizing at all. Like the 6’6” accountant tired of being asked if they’re a basketball player, nobody likes to have wrong assumptions made about them. It leaves them with the feeling that they’ve been stereotyped or misunderstood. The best approach to personalization is to start small, track your success, and validate your assumptions using analytics, user surveys and real customer data.

4. Don’t be a stalker

Finding things out about someone without asking them is pretty much the creepiest thing you can do – no one wants to feel like their every move is being tracked without their permission. It is important to let users know how you gathered the information you have about them. When presenting personalized content, provide some context as well, e.g. “Based on what you downloaded/bought/viewed we recommend…”

5. Let your user get a word in edgewise

Finally, it’s important to give your user a chance to participate in the conversation. You may not know as much as you think you do: people travel, use their friends’ computers or shop for gifts for people with different tastes or interests. How do you let them talk back? Give them a way to correct your initial assumptions. Let them change their personalization settings, correct their location, or tell you what their interests are. And ideally, give them a chance to opt out of personalization entirely if they’re not comfortable with it. It shows that you respect their wishes and aren’t going to be “that creep” stalking them. By giving your users an opportunity to talk, you gain an opportunity to get real, accurate information about them that you might never learn otherwise, opening the door to a true two-way conversation. 

  What do you think? Are there other website behaviours that creep you out?  

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